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Marshall defends international student return to tackle "economic crisis"

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Allowing hundreds of international students to travel into South Australia is necessary to stimulate the state’s pandemic-wounded economy, Premier Steven Marshall says, but other overseas travellers could be forced to wait until at least July next year before the borders are fully reopened.

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Marshall this morning acknowledged there was a “huge amount of anxiety” in the community about his decision to let up to 300 final year students fly-in to Adelaide from Singapore next month to resume their studies, but he said the move was warranted to revive a $1.9 billion international student industry left shattered by coronavirus-prompted travel restrictions.

It followed concerns yesterday that the pilot – approved by the federal and state governments over the weekend – could compromise South Australia’s strict border controls and would prioritise the repatriation of international students over Australian residents who are stuck overseas due to limited flights.

Marshall, who had not spoken publicly about the plan until this morning, said South Australia had only approved a “small pilot” and the students would be immediately placed in hotel quarantine for 14 days once they land in Adelaide.

He said health authorities had offered their full support for the pilot and the students would be subjected to the same health controls as other overseas travellers arriving on repatriation flights.

“We are dealing with a dual crisis here in South Australia at the moment – we’ve got a health crisis and we’ve got an economic crisis – and I think we as a nation are doing well from a health perspective, but we’ve also got to create jobs at the other side,” he said.

“What we know is that international students create thousands and thousands of jobs and enliven our CBD as well, so it’s a really important project.

“It will, if you like, set up the plan to repatriate more of those students back into Adelaide as soon as possible.”

Currently, only Australian permanent residents or citizens are allowed to travel into South Australia, with the international students to be granted an exemption by the Government.

The students would be placed on scheduled flights, with either the universities or students themselves expected to pay for the plane tickets and mandatory medi-hotel stays.

Opposition health spokesperson Chris Picton told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning “a lot of people” were questioning why the Government was prioritising the repatriation of international students.

“We’ve got a situation where South Australians who are stranded in Victoria are trying to get home and they’re being told that they can’t even go into hotel quarantine, but here we have the Government now facilitating international students to go into hotel quarantine,” he said.

“There’s also many issues that have been raised about Australians who are stuck overseas, who have been continually cancelled from flights around the world and they’re not getting the same level of support in getting home.”

Meanwhile, other overseas travellers could be forced to wait until at least July next year before the Government fully lifts South Australia’s border.

Marshall said the timeline was “maybe a bit optimistic”, but he was “hopeful” that travel bubbles with countries such as New Zealand could be enforced by the middle of next year.

“We will not be doing it before it is safe – that is our number one requirement – and the reality is we’ve talked in the past about a bubble with New Zealand, we’ve talked about bubbles with other COVID-safe nations, (but) I don’t think that’s going to occur in the coming months,” he said.

“I am hopeful that by the middle of next year – 12 months’ time- that we will be opened up for international travellers.”

South Australia’s border is currently closed to New South Wales and Victoria, which are both dealing with a second surge in coronavirus cases.

Only essential workers are permitted to enter into South Australia from Victoria and must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, while anyone from New South Wales or the ACT can travel into SA provided they self-isolate for 14 days.

Marshall said the national cabinet would look “very closely” at opening South Australia’s border to the ACT.

“The concern with the ACT is that people from one of the – for example – hotspots in downtown Sydney could travel into Canberra and get on a plane to come to Adelaide,” he said.

“We’ve got to really make very sure that that couldn’t occur in South Australia, but… the ACT has had an excellent set of (COVID-19 testing) results for a long period of time, in fact, quite significantly better than South Australia.

“We can’t take the risk at the moment, but we’re continuing to look at that opportunity.”

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